Karzai implicated in heroin trade by mattsteinglass
July 28, 2008, 10:44 am
Filed under: Afghanistan, Drugs

An extremely convincing NY Times Magazine article by Thomas Schweich, former Assistant Deputy Sec. of State for international narcotics and law-enforcement affairs, on resistance to opium poppy eradication by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Schweich says Karzai resists poppy eradication because he’s backed by Pashtun bigwigs from the South, especially Helmand Province, who are reaping huge and growing profits from the heroin trade. And he says it’s no longer true that poor, desperate farmers are responsible for poppy cultivation; it’s now mostly big, rich farmers in the South who have switched from wheat and cotton to poppy because of high profits.

The article does inspire some skepticism that Schweich may be insufficiently sensitive to the local political implications of drug eradication, especially aerial eradication. It also provides no evidence that the heroin trade really is a major source of financing for the Taliban, rather than contributions from Al-Qaeda or wealthy Gulf states, and no analysis of the Taliban’s attitudes towards the heroin trade. In the 1990s I understood they were violently opposed to it and had largely eliminated it.

I’m going Wednesday to a joint drug interdiction exercise by Vietnamese counter-narcotics police and US Drug Enforcement Agency trainers. What’s frustrating is that I’ll never get the level of genuine inside information someone like Schweich is privy to. Vietnam has a huge heroin addiction problem, but the stuff is supposedly all grown outside the country. Formerly a lot was grown in Laos; now I’m not sure where it’s coming from, but more likely Burma than Afghanistan I guess.


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